Updated: Feb 16
Introducing OKR is harder for you than it should be because you're missing the detail 🔍
As a child, my first skiing experience was a disaster. We were travelling with a professional Ski instructor. Great opportunity right? Well, I refused their help.
I struggled for hours trying to work it out. Why? I got the big picture. I'd seen the fundamentals on TV and figured I could make up the detail. As I found out, it's the annoying details where we become masters of our craft. Suffice to say, that was the end of my Skiing career.
OKR is much the same. We all get the big picture. The challenge comes when we get to the doing. How do we handle different situations? How do we create something which is valuable?
The following Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) are probably the most common questions I get when introducing OKR to a business. If you're about to take on OKR or experiencing some challenges, peruse the following and you may find some inspiration!
What does OKR mean?
Objectives and Key Results (OKR) is a management framework which focuses a company's efforts on their greatest priority using a measurable and aligned structure. It takes a valuable slice out of the strategy by stating what we want to achieve (the Objective) and how we’ll measure that success using metrics (the Key Results). It’s the framework which propelled Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, AfterPay and many others into the stratosphere.
The intent behind OKR is to connect teams with their purpose and the "why" behind their work. Drawing everyone into the bigger picture.
An OKR is not the project/initiative/work to be done, rather it’s the outcome of that work. For example, an outcome isn’t a new feature being delivered. It’s the impact that will have, such as increased customer satisfaction.
Should we have OKRs to align the business or have them at the department level?
For the vast majority of organisations, it should be your top priority to have an OKR at the business level first.
A fundamental benefit of OKR is creating alignment and cohesion. By having a business level OKR, all teams can align and collaborate towards this goal. The benefit for the executive team is they no longer work like heads of state worrying about their own department. They behave as one team!
By setting OKR by department, you're only encouraging misalignment and conflicting priorities.
How many OKRs should we set?
If you've been doing your reading, you'll probably notice a lot of people talk about 5 objectives and 5 key results. Simple right? Except that creates up to 25 different data points for each team to follow 😱
At the heart of OKR is focus. It's not all-encompassing, but it is about what is absolutely most important. That's why when it comes to OKR less is more.
When starting out, begin with one objective for a team. Having 2-5 key results is perfect. If overtime one Objective is not cutting it, add more.
Remember, Google (now Alphabet) is a common example of where 5 Objective and 5 Key results are used. Remember, they have 130,000 employees and a huge number of subsidiaries. Unless you're Google, stick to less.
What’s a good Objective look like?
The Objective is the destination, simply answering “What do we want to do?”
Change, not maintain
Objectives should act as a battle cry to inspire their people and help them connect their work with purpose.
Business Level Objective Example:
Become the number one accounting provider for Small Business in San Francisco
What’s a good Key Result look like?
The Key Results are measures of how we know we're getting there, answering the question, “How will we know we’ve met this objective?”
Key results are a stretch: an average 70% success level is expected.
Business Level Key Result Example:
Increase the reorder rate from 45% to 70% for San Francisco Small Business
Can an OKR be changed mid-cycle?
Generally, we don’t want an OKR to change once it has been set, except for two instances:
We believe the outcome is no longer desirable (eg. we wanted to enter a given market, but realised it’s too small)
We’ve found a better measure and wish to replace a Key Result
When an outcome is no longer desirable, we need to reset it to point towards whatever we want to achieve. If this is determined too late in the quarter, we’ll need to consider whether we’ll have the time to set and deliver on the OKR within the cycle. Regardless, be sure to talk to your people leader and relevant stakeholders before changing it.
An OKR being too hard is never a reason to change it - take it as a learning lesson for the future.
What are the common roles and responsibilities for OKR?
Ultimately we’re all responsible for driving success, however, there are some key areas of accountability to make the OKR framework run smoothly. This includes:
Performance Coach: This is the role of the Executive who’s accountable for the overall framework being embedded and working with teams to drive outcomes. Their focus is primarily on the executive team and works with the broader business through the support of the OKR Champion network. This includes setting key timelines for OKR activities and check-ins with senior leaders on progress.
OKR Champions: Team members who support the introduction of OKR and schedule relevant activities for their team. This includes coaching and mentoring the team on OKR, particularly when they’re just getting started with OKR.
People Leaders: While their existing role does not change, people leaders will increase focusing on mentoring team members on achieving their OKR and thinking critically when setting OKR.
Team members: The team members are those who’ll do the work in the hope that the OKR will be achieved. Every team member is responsible for delivering on the team’s OKR. We succeed or fail as a team.
What is a weekly confidence score and why do we do it?
The weekly confidence score is a reflection on how likely we are to achieve each Key Result. We do this as it helps us to understand where we need to focus our efforts, keeps our goals in front of mind and helps create a sense of progress. The reflection is generally a score of 0 (not confident at all) to 10 (extremely confident) that we’ll achieve the Key Result.
To get the most out of your reflection, do it on a Monday to capture some points on what you achieved the week before, what your priorities are for the week ahead and a score out of 10 for each Key Result. This can be done using a chat medium such as Slack, a shared document such as Confluence or a dedicated tool, such as Koan.
Why don’t we have individual OKRs for each team member?
OKR has been introduced to help us work more effectively as a business by aligning our teams and people. It is not a tool for individual performance management. It empowers teams to self-regulate their own performance and hold each other accountable.
OKR is about stretching ourselves to drive business outcomes and being open to failure. Individual goals on the other hand should be about professional development and improvement based on each person’s specific needs. We, therefore, see these as distinct.
What if a team member has an issue with the Company OKR or another team’s OKR?
Preferably we’ll pick up on issues like this early in the OKR setting cycle, however, sticking points can be identified at any time. In such a case, sit down with them to understand their concerns. Treat this as a coaching and mentoring session to understand the core of the problem and help them validate their own thinking. Regardless of your opinion, if they believe there is still an issue, help them speak to the right people to have their opinion heard. This might be their peers for their team OKR, a leader for another team’s OKR or a member of the executive team for the company OKR.
Should OKR be part of our one-on-one discussions?
Absolutely! But remember, your team member owns the agenda for the one-on-one. You’ll want to be clear on their teams OKR to ensure you can coach and mentor them on how they’re going achieving their OKR. Inspired by the book Radical Candour, we like the following format:
What’s on your mind this week?
How happy were you this past week?
How productive were you this past week?
What feedback do you have for me?
This is not the time for feedback - that’s for in the moment when the behaviour is exhibited. That said, it’s OK on occasion to come in wanting to specifically discuss their professional development and OKR.
Where can I find useful learning material for OKR?
If you require additional support, we have a few key resources which you’ll find valuable:
Perform further reading: OKR: What are Objectives and Key Results? Silicon Valley's secret to success
Access the SKILLFIRE Academy - Online OKR Learning Platform
What if my team have set poor quality OKR?
The first step is to understand that everyone is learning! We’re going to set OKRs and make mistakes along the way. This is critical, as, through self-reflection, the team will improve. For example, if a Key Result is a deliverable, rather than a metric, the team will have trouble confidence scoring along the way and near impossible at the end of the cycle. This is a great learning.
Regardless, offering your help and support is valuable. Open by asking if you can share some feedback on the teams OKR. If they accept, ask questions why they went down this path and offer ideas as to how they can make their OKR better quality.
If you have any questions relating to OKRs, just let us know - we’re more than happy to help!